We’re constantly trying to pattern deer but do our movement patterns influence theirs?
My annual trip to southeast Ohio was a highlight of every fall deer season. The property we hunted was relatively small, about 600 acres, but was one of the few remaining farms that had not been strip-mined so it had rich topsoil, and was well managed. As a result, it had a healthy deer population including some bragging-sized bucks. Twice a day – before dawn and in the early afternoon – our host would take us out via ATV to a blind or stand carefully selected based on wind direction and recent activity. The first days were always filled with mystery, anticipation and many deer sightings, but after several seasons there, I had learned to be patient and selective. That can sometimes be a bit of a double-edged sword however, because as the days of our week long hunt piled up, the deer sightings went down. It took me a couple hunts to recognize it but after several, it became clear to all, leading us to wonder if our presence was not having a negative effect. It kind of made sense, but still I wondered how much of an effect we had, and what we could do about it. Every time you enter the woods, you make your presence known, whether by being seen, heard or smelled by deer. Even the scent you leave behind can tip them off, and put them on alert. Knowing how deer react to those interactions can help reduce your impact and sometimes even be used to your advantage.
We know it is true and research backs it up. Several studies have found demonstrated an inverse correlation between hunting pressure and daytime deer movement. But deer don’t abandon their home range or even their core areas altogether. They simply shift, moving less during daylight, and more in thicker cover; and the effect is greater in older deer of both sexes. Researchers have also found that deer, especially mature bucks, learn to avoid permanent stands. Fortunately, there are ways to counteract these trends.
1. Hit the Peaks – Even pressured deer are still crepuscular, moving mostly at dawn and dusk. Concentrate your efforts around those peak periods and do not worry as much about the mid-morning to early afternoon periods, except during the rut.
2. Get Back – They’re spending more time in thick cover so you should too. The edge of a food plot or an open hardwood stand offers longer shots but that is not much good if opportunities never materialize. Get back in the thick stuff. It may be too late to clear shooting lanes this season if you find a honey hole of a tangle, but get in there afterward and you will be ready for next season.
3. Shift It Up – Some stands are consistent producers but far more have a limited life span. The first time you hunt a stand is usually the best and your odds go down with each successive visit as your presence creates more disturbance. As the research shows, deer will learn to avoid these places over time, but you need not give up on a former hotspot altogether. Sometimes a subtle shift can turn the tables. Try moving your stand 100 yards or so downwind, possibly even into thicker cover.
4. Change Your Ways – Often it’s not your presence but your coming and going that creates the most disturbance. If you find yourself consistently bumping deer on the way to your stand, consider taking a different route.
5. Recognize Opportunities – In many cases you’re not the only hunter in the woods and others are having the same effect, moving deer into thicker cover. Sometimes you can use that to your advantage. Learn where other hunters enter the woods, and where deer are more likely to go to avoid them. Then simply get in there ahead of the crowds. Again, seek out thicker cover, farther away from roads, trails and access points.
6. Push Back – One hunter intentionally pushing deer toward another can be an effective tactic when the deer just aren’t moving. An all-out man drive works, but sometimes a better approach is to have one person still-hunt through a patch of woods with one or two others strategically positioned on likely escape routes. That way everyone might get a chance, and it is less disruptive. This one should be considered a last resort because it creates more disturbance and changes natural movement patterns, but sometimes you have to push the limits.